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<1>Many Wasps supporters will be going home with unaccustomed early season smiles on their faces, as Wasps overcame Saracens by 23 points to 11 at Twickenham, to win only their second opening game of the season in the past seven years this afternoon.
Having lost the opening fixture against Saracens at Twickenham last September, by 13-11, Wasps began 2005-6 in characteristic style, going down 6-0 in the first seven minutes to two Glen Jackson penalties.
Wasps first attacking threat came at the end of the first quarter, a barnstorming run for Joe Worsley setting up Voyce, who was bundled into touch at the corner. From the ensuing line-out, Martin Purdy stole the ball and drove for the line. Stopped short, the Wasps lock remained flat out on the floor as the pile up dispersed, and was helped from the pitch shortly after with a badly cut head. Purdy, replaced by Tom Rees with John Hart moving in to lock, was treated for a severe cut to the head that required multiple stitches and did not return to the pitch.
Saracens cleared their lines, only to concede a penalty following Wasps counter-attack, and Mark van Gisbergen slotted the first of a series of beautifully struck place kicks that saw him net five from five on the day.
As the game neared the half hour, Wasps were still struggling to find some continuity in their game, conceding too many turnovers in the eagerness to go forward. However, on the 30 minute mark Rees stole a ball back that saw Wasps kick ahead and Voyce drive opposite number Richard Haughton out, after the winger had gathered the ball close to his own try line. Wasps drove the ensuing line out and battered closer to the line with close pick and drive play, but finally it was winger Voyce who scooped up the ball as it squirted out of a ruck and darted through for the first try.
As the game neared half time, Saracens continued to look strong at the scum, No8 Ben Skirving making good yards from pick-ups at the back of the scrum, and they also began to find space and threaten out wide with some quick ball. But it was Wasps who had the last flourish before the whistle, working through the phases to create numbers outside. Raphael Ibanez received the ball in space and passed to Paul Sackey, who made it over the line but was deemed to have been held up by the covering defence by referee David Rose, who blew his whistle immediately after to signal the end of the half.
Saracens came out pumped up for the second half, trailing by just one score, and began well as No8 Skirving caught his opponents napping on the blind side to go over in the corner. Van Gisbergen countered with a penalty shortly after to restore Wasps narrow lead, and put over another peachy kick on the 51st minute to stretch the gap to a 16-11.
The next twenty minutes saw Wasps create scoring opportunities on at least four occasions, moving the ball quickly wide and into space, but poor handling and finishing on the final pass meant all remained unconverted.
Saracens were limited to attacking from Wasps errors as the champions retained some good possession going into the last quarter. They were dangerous on the counter-attack however, only some excellent cover tackling from van Gisbergen and the back row keeping their opponents out. It was the full back again in the 75th minute who pounced on a loose pass from Saracens in his own twenty-two to get in behind the defence, passing off to Sackey who was away for the corner. The speed of Richard Haughton saved his team however, dragging down the Wasps man just short of the line, but Saracens prop Kevin Yates was subsequently yellow carded for illegal use of the shoulder and Wasps had a penalty opportunity just five yards out.
Van Gisbergen kicked for the line out, and from quick ball off the top Abbott was through the half gap, a cute pass out of contact putting his old partner, Fraser Waters, over beneath the posts. Van Gisbergen's simple conversion completed the scoring, and Wasps had chalked up a rare opening day victory.
After the game, Director of Rugby Ian McGeechan declared himself pleased with much of the team's performance. "I thought the attitude of the players out there today was superb, they worked hard in some very hot conditions. The whole squad have been training hard throughout the pre-season build-up, and all are pushing hard for places in the team. You couldn't ask for a better environment, and it means that when a player pulls on a Wasps jersey at the moment it is in the knowledge that he has worked hard for it.
"The new boys are fitting in well and also working hard, though in some case they still need to step it up physically. Raphael Ibanez is one of those players. He joined us late in pre-season, and is still working to prime fitness. There is a lot more to come from him but already he is such a valuable player for us to have on the park, as his experience means he sees things a little bit earlier than other players and is able to react quickly to counter the threat."
Head Coach Shaun Edwards was pragmatic as ever with his thoughts, saying, "We defended well, but our finishing was terrible."
He also reflected on the need for top fitness that many new players have to work on when they first join the Wasps squad. "We showed once again today that we are an attacking side. We try and play as many phases as we can, and when we kick the ball we try and keep it in play. That means that players don't get the rest time that they do when they play for other teams."
But his aim for the season remained clear: "We want to play multi-phase rugby and keep the crowd entertained."
On the try by Fraser Waters on his return to the Premiership, Edwards acknowledged, "It's nice to see the old maestro back. We missed him a great deal last season."
Half Time: 10-6
Referee: David Rose (RFU)